This is my third Sunday in Paris, and I am beginning to settle in and pick up on the local rhythms of this relaxing day. One of the favorite ways to spend a lazy Sunday seems to be enjoying time outside. The beautiful parks and public gardens are overflowing with people picnicking, reading, sketching, napping in the sun, eating ice cream, and gleeful children playing…every nook and cranny bubbling with life. The past two Sundays I have made my way to the Jardin de Luxembourg, a Paris classic. Today I decided to visit a different kind of green space, Pere Lachaise Cemetery – the worlds most visited, with over 3.5 million people entering its gates annually. I must admit, I wasn’t sure what to expect, or how a visit to a cemetery would measure up against the color and joy of spending my Sunday afternoon in the garden.
It turned out to be one of the most peaceful, lovely, inspiring afternoons I have spent since arriving in Paris. Far from being morose or morbid, it was incredibly life affirming. Pere Lachaise is indeed a cemetery for the living, as much as a city of the dead. Like the parks and gardens, there were people simply enjoying a beautiful Sunday here. Family’s strolling together, people having picnic lunches, and others like me simply admiring the beauty of the ancient tombs against natures backdrop. I have included a number of photographs I took while exploring today, it was truly stunning. Some of the oldest structures are being reclaimed by nature, time and neglect, while others that are also several hundred years old were well tended, complete with fresh flowers. Can you imagine laying a rose for a relative that passed away a few hundred years before you were even born? Talk about connecting with your roots!
There are many famous souls who call Pere Lachaise their final resting place, including Jim Morrison, Edith Piaf, Oscar Wilde, Frederic Chopin and Marcel Proust to name a few. While there are throngs of tourists who make pilgrimages to these grave sites, I found that some of the oldest, overlooked ones were among the loveliest. Death is the one great equalizer, it comes to us all without exception. Besides birth, it is the one experience that we all share, and in that eternal resting place today I realized that no one person there was more, or less significant then the others now. Yes, some may still be more well known, but beyond that they all experienced the same outcome, and ended up in the same place…regardless of what era they lived in, beliefs they held or their social status.
Looking at some of the older markers, it really put time and life into perspective. Admiring the final resting place of people who had already lived their entire life and died, a hundred or more years before mine began, somehow seemed to make linear time collapse. A great deal of the residents at Pere Lachaise have already been there for many, many lifetimes longer then they were here on earth. This can’t help but make you think about all of the small things that we stress and lose sleep over, how insignificant they usually are in the greater scheme of things, and ponder how life goes by in the blink of an eye. I couldn’t help but feel that I might just be on the right path after all. “In the end we only regret the chances we didn’t take, relationships we were afraid to have, and the decisions we waited too long to make.” – Lewis Carroll